Eric Harris shooting: Tangled truths from Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office

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UPDATE: Shannon Clark, the Tulsa County jail’s administrator and longtime public information officer for the sheriff’s office was fired Friday, May 29, 2015.

The sheriff’s office has not commented on why Maj. Clark was terminated, only that it came on the heels of a long investigation into Clark’s job performance.

clark fired

Clark was placed on administrative leave May 11.

Terry Simonson, who has acted as public information officer for TCSO during Clark’s absence, issued a brief statement Friday morning.

“After three weeks and hundreds of hours of job performance evaluations by a team assembled by the Sheriff, today he made the decision that Shannon Clark would no longer be employed with the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office effective today.”

Eric Kitch will assume jail administration duties, Simonson said.
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Original story below
By DYLAN GOFORTH
The Frontier

“This is going to be bad.”

The day after Eric Harris was fatally shot during a botched undercover gun sting, Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office Maj. Shannon Clark learned that a reporter was about to identify department booster Robert Bates as the killer.

Clark’s response on the phone was short and ominous.

As predicted, the fallout for the sheriff’s office has been bad following Harris’ death and revelations that Bates had power and privileges based on his financial largesse, favors and friendship with Sheriff Stanley Glanz.

The sheriff’s office and its representatives haven’t quelled the furor, engaging in a series of missteps, issuing conflicting statements and failing to produce or release records that would fully support their claims.

Now, a grassroots organization is trying to gather 5,000 signatures by the middle of June to call for a grand jury investigation, based on allegations that Glanz had essentially lost control of the sheriff’s office.

The grand jury petition is asking for Glanz’s removal from office — Glanz has already publicly stated he will not step down, but will not seek re-election in 2016. In response to the petition being filed last week, Tulsa County spokesman Terry Simonson said the sheriff’s office was prepared to file a “libel or slander” suit against the petitioners.

Bates’ initial story was that he inadvertently shot Harris after mistaking his own handgun for a Taser. That was before sources came forward and documents emerged showing Bates’ training records may have been falsified because the wealthy man donated cars, money and travel expenses to the force and happens to be a friend and “fishing buddy” of Glanz.

Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz
Tulsa County Sheriff Stanley Glanz

When it comes to answering the question of how a 73-year-old volunteer reserve used his personal weapon to kill Harris during a Violent Crimes Task Force sting, officials at the sheriff’s office have told widely inconsistent stories and on occasion, reacted with stonewalling silence.

The shooting and the scene

Considering the scrutiny that has followed, it seems strange in retrospect that news of Harris’ shooting broke quietly on Twitter.

Fox 23, the first news organization to mention the shooting, tweeted only: “Deputy involved shooting in north Tulsa.” That tweet, posted about 30 minutes after Harris was shot, was surrounded by other Fox 23 updates on David Bowie’s New York musical and dog killings in northern Mexico.

Even the sheriff’s office was caught off guard. The raid was an undercover operation, so all radio traffic had been encrypted. Clark said later he was unaware anything had gone wrong until he received a text message that said: “Bates shot a guy, get up here.”

The public did not yet know that the shooter was a wealthy reserve deputy with questionable qualifications, or that Harris would die from his wounds.

However, a Tulsa County deputy shooting a suspect, “especially within city limits,”  is rare enough that the tweet caught people’s attention.

Fox 23’s story was posted at 11:17 a.m. “Harris was shot at 10:13 a.m.” but reporters who immediately reached out to Clark were told that the crime scene had been cleared and no investigators remained.

Harris, Eric
Andre Harris, left, and Eric Harris. Courtesy photo

To a reporter, the implication was that the incident was no big deal. Maybe the victim had only been grazed by the bullet— after all, many non-violent crime scenes receive more than hour of investigation. (Clark later said investigators spent about 90 minutes on scene.)

But later that afternoon Clark released a statement to the media stating that the victim had died, and that the shooter was a reserve deputy assigned to the Violent Crimes Task Force.

As for the quick crime scene cleanup, Clark and Sheriff’s Capt. Bill McKelvey gave a number of explanations during an interview the following week.

McKelvey said deputies feared creating a “Ferguson” situation by remaining at the scene for an extended period. Ferguson police were damned,—and rightfully so, by the public for leaving Michael Brown’s body on the street for so long, McKelvey said.

But Harris was quickly transported by an ambulance, so only a handful of deputies remained at the scene to interview witnesses.

McKelvey also said that county employees cannot work overtime, which necessitated quick crime scene investigation. Requests to clarify the no-overtime claim have not been returned by either TCSO or County Commissioners. Meanwhile, Clark said that investigators didn’t have much physical evidence to collect, and left after talking to everyone who lived, worked or shopped nearby.

Another way the quick crime scene clearing was unusual: Since Harris’ death occurred in city limits, it will count on the Tulsa Police Department’s yearly list of homicides. However, TPD didn’t investigate the Harris shooting because the Sheriff’s Office never requested the department’s assistance.

That itself isn’t wholly unusual, though authorities will typically ask an outside agency to handle death investigations to avoid allegations of impropriety. For instance, when prisoner Elliot Williams died in the Tulsa Jail in 2011, the county called in the Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation for assistance.

However, Glanz said last month that he had not requested OSBI investigation following Harris’ death because, as a member of the OSBI Commission, which oversees the statewide law enforcement agency, he could not count on that agency to be impartial.

At the same time, Glanz noted that an accrediting agency known as CALEA had reviewed TCSO’s policies following Harris’ death, and found them to be up to par. According to CALEA’s website, Glanz served as that agency’s chairman from 2000-2005.

The video

When TCSO released the Harris shooting video, recorded via sunglass cameras Bates himself had purchased for the task force, it answered some questions, but raised several others.

In Bates statement to a TCSO investigator, he said he exited his vehicle (seen in the video as Harris runs north) and grabbed his “pepperball launcher,” believing Harris might need to be incapacitated.

As Bates approached the 44-year-old ex-convict who had already been tackled and pinned to the ground, he reportedly determined that he would no longer need his pepperball launcher. He told investigators that he switched to his Taser after he saw Harris place his left hand near his waist. Bates said that the way Harris was fleeing made him believe he might have a gun in his athletic shorts.

Bates, in the video, yelled “Taser! Taser!” then fired one shot, striking Harris under the right arm. Bates said he believed he was holding his Taser, however, in video clips it is visibly still strapped to his chest.

From the time Bates’ vehicle first appears in the video released by TCSO, to the time he fires his gun, is 18 seconds.

Upon being shot by Bates, Harris stated that he was losing his breath, to which Joseph Byars, one of the deputies struggling with Harris, responded “Fuck your breath.”

That comment drew the ire of not just the community, but also national publications like the Washington Post, who called the statement more “shocking” than the shooting.

The sheriff’s office later said that Byars, and Michael Huckeby, who was also kneeling on Harris, did not hear the gunshot, and thought that Harris was complaining of being fatigued from fleeing arrest.

However, Bates noted in a statement he gave to the sheriff’s office that when he announced “Taser! Taser!” one of the deputies on top of Harris moved out of the way to avoid the Taser’s prongs.

The deputies also clearly heard Harris state that he was losing his breath, before Byars responded with the expletive. Protesters have since called for the firing of “Officer Fuck Your Breath,” and both Huckeby and Byars have been reassigned in the shooting’s aftermath.

The video allegedly stopped recording after that statement, and now-former Undersheriff Tim Albin said the batteries on the sunglasses used to record the incident ran out at that point. Albin has since resigned from the sheriff’s office, and Glanz has been critical of his former undersheriff, saying that he may have placed “too much trust” in those below him.

The fallout

The revelation that Bates was the shooter only increased the furor surrounding Harris’s death.

More than 100 reserve deputies assist the sheriff’s office, and Glanz has said they help with things like the mounted patrol, or even in the jail. But the public’s most common interaction with reserves is at the Tulsa State Fair, where they primarily focus on rowdy drunks and unfair carnies. Clark has credited the reserve program on multiple occasions for keeping crime low at the fair.

So how did a 73-year-old reserve deputy end up participating in undercover operations on the Violent Crimes Task Force?

Clark later said that Bates, classified within TCSO as an “advanced reserve,” was eligible to donate his hours anywhere in the department he desired. Having donated vehicles and equipment to the task force, it was an obvious pairing, Clark said.

But that didn’t answer mounting questions about Bates’ training and qualifications.

Multiple sources immediately reached out to reporters (who now work for The Frontier) to say that Bates’ training records had been falsified. To reach the level of an advanced reserve, Bates would have theoretically need 240 hours of CLEET training, and 480 hours of field training.

While there are nearly 130 reserve deputies currently in TCSO’s program, there are far fewer advanced reserves. At that level, the reserve deputy is for all intents and purposes a full-time deputy, able to act on his or her own without direct supervision, capable of making arrests and conducting traffic stops.

Records show that Bates, who spent 12 months at the Tulsa Police Department in 1964, was “grandfathered in” at the Sheriff’s Office when officials there determined his 1963 CLEET training was adequate.

  • Clark first said that field training records “called Daily Observation reports” are at times only kept by the trainee and the trainer. That would directly contradict TCSO policy that states those records are to be placed in at least two separate files.
  • The Sheriff’s Office then said that it was possible those records existed, but could not be located because they were in paper format and might be haphazardly filed in a storage box somewhere without an easy way to locate them.
  • It was also possible, Clark said, that Bates’ field training was never completed at all. The 480 hour requirement is merely the sheriff’s policy, not state law, he said.
  • Glanz, friends with Bates for 25 years, may have simply waived that requirement, granting Bates the ability to immediately begin acting as a full-time deputy, Clark explained.
  • Records show questions about Bates’ activity were raised within the Sheriff’s Office a year after he volunteered. Multiple people questioned whether Bates should have been allowed to use his private vehicle, which had been outfitted with Sheriff’s Office equipment including lights and a radio.
  • Sgt. Randy Chapman, who was the head of the reserve deputy program when Bates joined, reported to a superior that Bates had entered the program without his knowledge.
  • A 2009 TCSO Internal Affairs document details a meeting where Chapman and others met with Glanz to address concerns about Bates’ actions. A week later, Chapman was transferred from reserve deputy supervision because then-Chief Deputy Tim Albin did not want him “to have any contact with Bob Bates anymore,” according to the report.
  • Sgt. Eric Kitch faced a similar transfer. Kitch told IA investigators that “he doubts the training Bates received because there are no records or Daily Observation Reports.” The IA report states Albin then removed Kitch from any supervisory role over Bates.

The week following Harris’ shooting, a reporter now with The Frontier sent the Sheriff’s Office an open records request, asking for personnel files related to the transfers of both Chapman and Kitch. That request was denied.

Requests for records on use of force and disciplinary action were also denied.

Clark said days after receiving the request that the Sheriff’s Office couldn’t respond to questions about transfers without specifically knowing who was supposedly transferred. When reminded that Kitch and Chapman were both previously named in the records request, Clark referred questions about their transfers to TCSO’s legal counsel.

Even the gun used in the Harris shooting came under question.

Weeks after Harris was killed, Clark Brewster, Bates’ attorney, released 65 pages of documents to the national media, saying they proved Bates received adequate training and had qualified with the .357 Smith & Wesson revolver he used to shoot Harris.

However, nowhere in those documents was that gun, Bates’ personal weapon, mentioned. TCSO requires deputies to qualify yearly on all guns they carry while on duty and the list of allowable guns did not include the gun Bates carried that day.

Also, three years of Bates’ handgun qualification scores are missing. Glanz has said that those records are missing, but will be released when located.

The Sheriff’s Office has not responded to repeated phone calls and emails asking if any of those missing documents have been located. Glanz previously said he had sought passage of a law years ago that would allow sheriff’s offices to destroy those types of records after five years, but even that appears to be a mistake — the law actually says that documents held by Sheriff’s Offices may be destroyed after seven years.

The training records released by Brewster only account for a handful of the 480 hours Bates would have needed to be trained to achieve the rank of advanced reserve. A summary claiming Bates trained more than 500 hours was released by Brewster, but the summary is handwritten on Bates’ corporate letterhead and isn’t signed by any Sheriff’s Office supervisor.

Parts of Bates’ statement was questioned as well. In his statement April 6, four days after Harris was killed, Bates said that Scott Wood, one of his lawyers, “advised investigators that (Bates) would be giving a statement at a later time.”

In the statement, Bates said he received training “by the Maricopa County Arizona Sheriff’s Department on response to active shooters.” The following day, a Maricopa County spokeswoman said that Bates had not received any training from their office.

It was possible, she said, that Bates received training from a member of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office who was teaching a National Tactical Officers’ Association class. But NTOA officials told the Arizona Republic newspaper that there was no record of Bates registering or attending an NTOA class.

Brewster later said Bates had attended a related seminar in Washington, D.C.

The Internal Affairs report

Local and national media swarming around the sheriff’s office were waiting for a bombshell, and it dropped on April 24 in the form of a 13-page Internal Affairs report from 2009.

Prior to the report — a memo to then-Undersheriff Brian Edwards that detailed the various ways Bates had been coddled and enabled since joining TCSO — being leaked to the public, the sheriff’s office had at time both denied its existence and its importance.

The day before the document was made public, Glanz said in a news conference that he believed the report found “no special treatment.”

The report, which showed quite the opposite, was given to reporters at The Frontier and other media the following day. Glanz initially said that he had never seen the document and that the Sheriff’s Office had to verify its legitimacy. When asked about the report, Clark stated that the sheriff’s office was seeking to determine how it was leaked, and didn’t appear concerned with allegations inside it.

But later, Glanz said that the Sheriff’s Office had located the report previously and turned it over to District Attorney Steve Kunzweiler when the DA’s office requested it.

The report was centered around two questions: Was Bates treated differently than other reserve deputies, and was pressure exerted on employees and supervisors to aid Bates?

The answer from TCSO employees in the report was an unequivocal yes.

Authored by Sgt. Rob Lillard, the report stated that “policy has been violated and continues to be violated by both Captain Tom Huckeby and Chief Deputy Tim Albin with regard to special treatment shown to Reserve Deputy Robert Bates.”

Chapman said in the report he told Bates that he would need 480 hours of documented training “from an actual FTO.” Shortly after the conversation, Chapman learned Bates “was out stopping vehicles on his own without completing the program.”

Brewster, Bates’ attorney, told CNN’s Anderson Cooper that Bates was not out stopping vehicles on his own at that point. He earlier had told CNN’s Erin Burnett that Bates “had all the requisite training and experience.”

But those records have never been provided. Former TCSO Cpl. Warren Crittenden said in the IA report he felt pressured to sign off on Bates’ field training before the training was complete. Crittenden said Albin and Tom Huckeby told him the training needed to be completed on a timeline that had not been used for other reserves.

Crittenden was later fired by the Sheriff’s Office, and has since been arrested in charged, along with two others, with first-degree murder in connection to an east Tulsa hotel killing earlier this year.

Crittenden said in his interview that Albin had never approached him before about any other reserve deputy’s training.

“Crittenden was shown two memorandums apparently written by him in reference to Reserve Deputy Bates. He stated that he did not write either of them,” the report states. “He was given them by Captain Huckeby and told to initial them.”

One of the memos Huckeby told Crittenden to approve states: “As you are aware, Bob Bates is a former Tulsa Police Officer, he brings to the Tulsa County Sheriff’s Office a wealth of knowledge, and experience in the field of law enforcement. I am confident that his progress is such that there is no need for him to continue with the remaining amount of FTO time.”

When Crittenden later learned that Bates was operating as a normal field-trained deputy, Huckeby told him: “It’s your job to keep an eye on him.”

Crittenden told Edwards that Bates had field trained for 328 of the required 480 hours, but that he still would not have let Bates into the field, saying he needed “additional training.”

No documents showing that amount of training have been released by the sheriff’s office, or by Bates camp.

Crittenden said he felt especially pressured by Huckeby, and was afraid of retaliation—such as a transfer—if he did not do what Huckeby said.

Huckeby, who has also faced some amount of public scorn, is currently on vacation—Glanz said Huckeby left for 30 days following Albin’s resignation. Glanz also said he expects Huckeby back in the office when the vacation ends.

dylan@readfrontier.com
Dylan Goforth 918-931-9405

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Dylan Goforth

Editor in Chief/Staff Writer

Dylan has two kids, three dogs, and no time to himself. He's fueled by QuikTrip and Twitter. Contact: dylan@readfrontier.com or 918-931-9405.
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